Does MMA Help Build Muscle?

Does MMA Help Build Muscle?
Photo by Anastase Maragos

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is associated with a fantastic built physique. Every one of us became fascinated with the MMA fighter’s bodies and strength at one point and wondered if it was possible to achieve that strength and toned appearance.

If martial arts fascinate you and you want to find out whether they are good for the body, you’ve come to the right place. Therefore, does MMA help build muscle? Let’s find out!

Does MMA Help Build Muscle?

To a certain extent, yes, but not really. You must realize that the muscles you see in many martial arts are functional only for fighting. 

You are not developing all the other muscles in your body, so if you want to build muscles more efficiently, you must go to a gym and engage in a heavy lifting program. 

Moreover, the dojo is simply not enough to provide for your needs if bodybuilding is your goal since that’s not martial arts’ goal in the first place.

How Do Different Martial Arts Act on Muscle Growth?

According to, this is how the most popular martial arts impact the body.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai can help you build muscle if your baseline fitness is very low already. You will build muscle, but you will hit diminishing returns very quickly; still, you can maintain good shape. However, you might need to be stronger since you won’t be increasing your resistance. 


While many believe karate won’t help you build muscles, it’s possible. Your leg muscles might grow from bodyweight squats, fighting stances, and kicking. 

While switching from orthodox to southpaw back and forth for an hour, throwing punches and kicks, your legs will get tired and be forced to adapt. This adaptation is what will create muscles. 

Still, we are not saying that karate is optimal for building muscle, but if you are untrained, it will give your lower body a foundation. However, keep in mind that it won’t do much about your upper body. 


If “building muscle” means hypertrophy and getting big, judo won’t do it for you. Judo tends to be high-intensity cardio which might help you lean out and lose fat. 

You might look “more muscular” if you lose a lot of fat because your muscles will be more accentuated, with less fat covering them. You might build coordination, skill, speed, and stamina; Judo’s great for “fitness” but won’t “build muscle”. 


Taekwondo is more on the “soft” side as far as martial arts go. It’s mostly based on balance and kicking techniques, and it’s primarily a lower-body martial art, so you’ll get a lot of leg and core exercise. However, as with judo, arms won’t get much action here.

Taekwondo might help you to get stronger and more in shape, but it will only help you grow your muscle if you are doing additional strength training.

What to expect – MMA and Building Muscles

Possibly much stronger appearance 

So, does MMA help build muscle? Let’s clarify first; building muscles largely depends on your body type and physical activity before starting martial arts training. Also, on how much muscle you had before you started training. 

If you’ve been inactive for some time, the stimulus might influence the growth of certain muscle groups. Striking arts tend to influence the growth of shoulders and calves, while grappling arts might affect the legs, arms, and back.

However, as your body starts to adjust, it will stop growing since martial arts tend to build more muscular endurance than hypertrophy which requires more resistance. Grappling will strengthen you as it tends to have more resistance in training than striking. 

Might define your muscles and add a more “toned” look

Generally, martial arts are just highly intense cardio, so you should expect to burn quite a bit of fat. If you intend to build muscles in the gym, it will show off the muscle definition better, giving that more “toned” look. 

As bodybuilders, lifting high volumes and eating a lot of protein might ultimately help achieve the gains. So, after that “fit” look, you should combine martial arts training with a strength-focused lifting program and, of course, as we said, a decent diet.

Combining Martial Arts and Weightlifting 

Martial arts is about speediness and power, not mass and weight

Martial arts don’t work well with enormous muscles since they are not for athletic guys. It indeed has heavy guys, but they aren’t buffed too much. 

This is because traditional martial arts benefit from speed and big and heavy muscles mean much slower motion. They weigh your hands, and heavier hands mean they are harder to move. 

Generally, martial art professionals say that lifting weights does not combine well with martial arts since muscles and joints are stressed very differently. MMA requires flexibility and strength in positions that are not normally practiced in the gym.

Building excessive muscles is almost impossible 

You must train very devotedly if you intend to build muscles from martial arts. You need to start doing calisthenics, pull-ups, abs, squats, and all the variations of these, which are hundreds. 

Getting powerful might give you muscle mass over time, but it will never be excessive, so if this is your goal, it’s very much possible. 

Gym promotes slowing down and strengthening joints, while martial arts promote pushing those angles out.

The key is finding a perfect balance between the two 

Weightlifting will certainly complement the martial arts journey; however, you need to realize that both journeys will take a significant amount of time to see major results. 

If you intend to mix martial arts with weightlifting, We suggest doing bodybuilding sparingly, as it will leave you too sore to properly train martial arts. 

You must take recovery time seriously and scale up gradually till you find the balance that works for your schedule and ability. 

In this case, the most important aspect is your diet and, if possible, working with a personal trainer.


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